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After Two Decades of Ignoring the Convention On the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Approves An International Women's Rights Treaty

July 31, 2002

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday approved an international treaty that is intended to eliminate discrimination against women. The Democratic-controlled committee approved the treaty over the objections of the Bush administration.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW, requires nations to reduce barriers against women in housing, politics, employment, health care and legal systems. It requires that women have equal rights to work, pay and benefits and guarantees safe working conditions.

170 countries have ratified the treaty since it first appeared in 1979. The United States is the only Western country, apart from San Marino and Monaco, that has not ratified the treaty. Virtually all of the other non-ratifiers are conservative Muslim states, including Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan.

For two decades the treaty has basically been ignored by the US. President Carter signed the treaty as he was leaving office in 1980, but Reagan and Bush declined to seek ratification. The treaty made it through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under the Clinton administration, but it was never brought up for a full Senate vote.

Opponents say the treaty promotes abortion, homosexuality, and legalized prostitution and that it weakens U.S. sovereignty. Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina accused the committee of having a "radical abortion agenda." Helms just had heart surgery and was not present at the vote, but is expected to return to the Senate in time to fight ratification on the Senate floor.

The treaty needs 67 votes in the Senate to be ratified, meaning supporters will have to find at least 16 votes among the Republicans.


  • Leila Milani, co-chair of the Working Group on the Ratification of CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

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